In Your Midst

ST. JAMES CATHEDRAL RESPONDS TO THE SEPTEMBER 11 TRAGEDY

Fall 2001

In This Issue:
On the morning of September 11th, we were suddenly thrust from security, safety, and what we had called peace, into a new and painful sense of our own vulnerability. As individuals, we staggered; but as a Cathedral community, we courageously went to work, finding in prayer the most constructive possible response to disaster.

September 11 was the beginning of some extraordinary days at St. James. During the week that followed the attacks, well over 10,000 people found their way to the Cathedral. Many of those who came here to pray “would never readily identify themselves as religious people in any formal sense,” says Cathedral Pastor Father Michael G. Ryan, “but they came here nonetheless, seeking solace, healing, and the comforting presence of God.”

For the entire Cathedral staff, the work was a blessing. While so many felt so helpless, we were fortunate to be able to do something, however slight, to comfort, to console, to make room for peace. “In times of tragedy, people need us,” says Dr. James Savage, Director of Liturgy and Music. “In responding to tragedy — and giving others a way to respond — we are at our very best as a Cathedral parish.”

And the response was swift. By 7:45 AM, banners of mourning had been hung on the west fašade and a place of prayer had been established in the North Aisle, beneath an icon of the crucified Christ. At 8:15 AM, Father David Brant offered the first Mass of the day for the victims. At 9:00 AM, as the tower bells tolled, volunteers — some of them long-time parishioners like Gerard Vreeburg and Elizabeth Patterson, and some visitors who had come to St. James for the first time that morning after hearing of the terrorist attacks — arranged hundreds of votive candles on the west steps before the ceremonial bronze doors. At 10:00 AM, the first of a series of hourly prayer services was celebrated at the special place of prayer in the North Aisle.

More than 50 volunteers in the Cathedral Choir rearranged work and school schedules to be present to sing at two major liturgies on Tuesday. Some choristers stayed the whole day, doing not only what they do so well — leading the community in song — but photocopying, answering phones, typing intercessions, distributing orders of worship, a little of everything to help with whatever needed to be done. The reason was simple: as Kelly Curtin, a Cathedral cantor, said, “I came to the Cathedral that morning because it was the only place to be.”

At 12:10 PM, Archbishop Alex J. Brunett celebrated Mass in an overflowing Cathedral, with over 1,300 in attendance. The Archbishop urged those assembled to respond to the attacks with prayer and with prayerful action. “Even in this hour of tragedy,” he said, “we continue to commit ourselves to peace and nonviolence… Disarmament of the human heart and the conversion of the human spirit to God alone can bring authentic peace to the world.”

Masters of ceremonies, altar servers, extraordinary ministers, and ushers all hastened to help throughout the day. Celeste McDonell, attorney and a Cathedral MC, watched the events unfolding from her downtown office, “For me, as soon as we turned on the news that morning, I knew I needed to be at the Cathedral, to be in and with my community. Seeing so many come together for prayer and the comfort of God’s presence in the Cathedral made me realize we all needed to be there — we gained so much from the presence of each other. Our community of St. James is much bigger than we ever know.”

In the evening, the Cathedral welcomed people of many faiths in a service that brought together local leaders of the three great religions of Jerusalem: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Singing together, praying together and sharing the light in the candle-lighting that concluded the service, we were reminded again, that as Father Ryan said, “We are all children of God… we are all one.”

President George W. Bush declared Friday a “National Day of Prayer and Remembrance,” and beginning at 7:45 AM, twelve continuous hours of prayer were held in the Cathedral, with Masses and liturgies as well as music and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Jennifer Sokol, Cathedral violinist, who played Bach in the quiet Cathedral for the first hour of the morning, felt privileged to be present. “It gave me a way to give something of my own, and to offer something for the victims that represents who we are at St. James Cathedral. Sometimes you wish you could be there, searching the rubble for survivors; but we need to give from who we are. And so the Cathedral offered music and beauty as a prayer in the face of all this destruction.”

At 12:30 PM, in union with others gathered in prayer throughout the United States, the 1,500 people attending the 12:10 PM Mass with Auxiliary Bishop George Thomas and Father Ryan paused for a minute of silence, followed by the tolling of a bell.

Cathedral Associate Organist Clint Kraus concluded the Day of Prayer and Remembrance with an Organ Prayer following the Ecumenical Prayer with music from TaizÚ. Kraus played organ settings of prayers that are familiar to people of many faiths, “Alain’s music — and what he said about his music — helped to sum up people’s emotions that night,” Kraus said.

The terrorist attacks of September 11 were followed, bitterly, by outbursts of violence against innocent Arab Americans and Muslims in our own country. Sensing the need for reconciliation within the community, Father Ryan worked with the Very Rev. Robert V. Taylor, dean of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, the Church Council of Greater Seattle, and the Washington Association of Churches to plan yet another inter-religious prayer. The result was a procession, Children of God Together, in which religious leaders from a dozen traditions prayed together at St. Mark’s Cathedral on Capitol Hill, then led a candlelight procession of some 4,000 down Broadway to St. James Cathedral.

As the quiet procession reached St. James, the “Pioneer Bell” could be heard tolling from the South Tower. “The Cathedral has other bells,” Father Ryan said in his address that night, “but we thought it important that this be the one we heard tonight. This same bell, on a fateful morning in February of 1886, was the alarm that alerted Seattle’s Chinese population that they were about to be corralled and deported in a chilling moment of racial hatred early in our city’s history. The pioneer bell was one of the few voices of reason on that sorry day. Unfortunately, it did not carry the day… Tonight, we have said ‘no’ to that kind of madness.”

Nicole Brodeur, a Seattle Times columnist, was one of the thousands who came to St. James on that Tuesday, September 11. “I took in the domed ceiling, the stained glass,” she wrote in her column on September 13, “and thought that maybe it could contain what people were feeling.”

“Like a cathedral,” Pope John Paul II has said, “peace must be constructed patiently and with unshakable faith.”

Corinna Laughlin is Liturgy Associate at St. James Cathedral.


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